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12 Dec, 2017 01:20

Racism row hijacks massive support campaign for bullied schoolboy

What began as a massive internet show of support for Keaton Jones, whose tearful video about bullying went viral, has now descended into an argument over whether his mother is racist and if that means the boy doesn't deserve encouragement.

Jones’ video, in which the tearful sixth-grader from Horace Maynard Middle School in Knoxville, Tennessee sits in a car lamenting about being bullied, was uploaded to Facebook this past weekend by his mother. The post attracted 22 millions views. Basketball star LeBron James, rapper Snoop Dogg and actor Mark Ruffalo were among the celebrities who offered support for the boy and invited him to their events.

“Just out of curiosity, why do they bully? What's the point of it?” Keaton had asked. “Why do you find joy in taking innocent people and finding a way to be mean to 'em? It's not okay.”

Support for his words soon turned to dismay, however. On Monday, images purportedly from the boy’s mother’s social media account were revealed, showing her holding a Confederate flag and also expressing negative views on black protesters. The profile in question has since been closed to the public, making the images impossible to verify.

The backlash on Twitter included accusations of racism against the mother. It included depicting her as a KKK member and Keaton’s face crudely photoshopped over a comic book image of Hitler being punched by Captain America.

Some comments suggested Keaton deserved the bullying because he insulted his black schoolmates, without specifying a source for that claim.

Other accounts accused Kimberly Jones of using her son’s video to make money.

A GoFundMe account had indeed been set up for Keaton after his video went viral, but its creator, a man named Joseph Lam, has admitted he does not know the Jones family personally. The account had raised nearly $58,000 before Lam paused the donations.

Meanwhile, real social media accounts of anybody in Keaton’s family have been hard to come by. A few accounts with their names on them have emerged, but most have either been recently created or have only started posting after the video went viral.

One such account, used extensively in the initial reporting on Keaton’s mother’s alleged racist views, was accessed by MMA fighter Joe Schilling, who then posted screenshots of himself ‘debunking’ Kimberly’s purported scam before shooting off a barrage of insults. Schilling admits, however, that it “might be a fake account pretending to be his mom.”

One of the unverifiable accounts, claiming to be Keaton himself, posted an apology for her alleged racism.

“I love my mother but I also realize wrong is wrong,” the post on the now-deleted Instagram account went. “I hope we can all put her mistakes in the past and focus on bettering the world.”

However, Keaton's sister, Lakyn Jones, took to Twitter to beat back the accusations of racism. She wrote: “Those who know me and my family know we aren’t racist. My brother doesn’t say the ‘N’ word. Please leave it alone.”

In spite of the controversy, many people keep urging sympathy for Keaton, whatever his mother’s views may be.